Osteria Waggon and Horses, Milton (almost Cambridge)

Osteria Waggon and Horses* is in Milton. As the city grows out to meet it, that’s almost, a bit, if you squint, close enough to say that Cambridge finally has somewhere worth going for Italian food.

Crikey, that’s been a long time coming.

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Inside, it’s bright and airy with a little lounge area, and just a few bits of pub poking through. Yes, it says, this is a restaurant, but by all means have a drink – it’s not fussy. That’s the mood. Osteria was friendly, sociable, and delicious.

The menu’s simple, a few things to each course, the way I like it, and front-loaded with a range of little aperitivi to share. You could easily linger over plenty of those and a bottle or two of crisp white on a nice summer evening, before moving on to some pasta. That’s more or less what we did.

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Sticks n Sushi, Cambridge

Sushi elevates the useful cliché of little things counting for a lot to raison d’être. Perfect little touches are the whole deal. Sticks n Sushi served us pretty damn good sushi, but they delighted us up front with the best edamame beans I’ve eaten. Lightly seasoned, and grilled to bring out the savoury, these were just everything you want from a sushi appetizer, and they set the tone for a meal of quality produce with considered touches.

Table for 2 sushi platter - sticks n sushi

Sticks n Sushi has been open for a little over a month, but scheduling shenanigans mean I’ve only just managed to get there. While they’re new in Cambridge, they’ve been going for twenty-two years, have twelve branches in Copenhagen, and another four in London. The deal is a slight sushi modernization, yakitori on the side, without recourse to overbearing fusion.

It works.

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Bundobust, Leeds – sensational Indian street food (and craft beer)

This weekend we were up in Leeds for the Thought Bubble comics festival (podcast here). Even when it isn’t full of enthusiastic nerds Leeds is a fun city. It’s got some storming places to drink beer, a lively (and growing) food scene, and since 2014 it’s had Bundobust.

This is one of the best places I’ve eaten all year.

It’s also – and get this – completely vegetarian. In fact, it’s often vegan. How cool is that? Packed to the gills in Leeds centre, serving eclectic veggie street food and exciting beer that puts some of my Soho favourites to hide-under-a-rock levels of shame.

Bundobust selection

So what’s it doing?

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Reys, Cambridge – rotisserie chicken

Reynard is a trickster figure, a Loki-ish fox dude from Medieval picaresque. “Renard”  is the French word for fox. Foxes are of course iconically partial to a spot of chicken, and Reys is a rotisserie chicken restaurant that’s gone in hard on the impish vulpine branding. All orange and jaunty furnishings, the chairs have foxtail stripes. That’s certainly cuter than blood and feathers in the henhouse.

Reys, Cambridge - downstairsThey sell roast chicken. It tastes like good roast chicken, and it doesn’t cost too much.

Everything else is just a little peculiar. There’s this slight Korean edge running through the menu that doesn’t quite sit with the Ikea farmhouse ambience, never really explained. The starters are cursory. But the chicken is fine. It just all doesn’t quite make sense.

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A new thing from Inder’s Kitchen

Chicken Bhuna and Paneer JalfreziInder’s Kitchen is – for my money – the best place to eat Indian food in Cambridge. Let’s just get that out of the way.

They’re great. They’ve been going for about five years, and I remember being delighted when they started – it felt fresh to have a more high-end, home cooking inspired take on Indian food available, something to offset the curry house archetype.

Now, I love a classic Anglo-Indian cliche curry, but they’re not exactly magical feats of foregrounding single interesting flavours. Inder’s hits that spot – the food isn’t greasy, it tastes fresh and intricate, and it goes beyond (while sometimes including) the korma/dhansak/vindaloo etc standards.

Despite only doing takeaway, Inder’s has always tried to diversify a bit – they’ve had a food van, tried chilled-to-reheat and frozen, and started making sauces and chutneys. And that’s how I found myself in their industrial unit kitchen, trying their latest venture: a set of curry kits to make at home.

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Frozen soufflé, fresh fish, and a bit of business chat

I don’t do a lot of PR gigs. Not, you understand, because I have any kind of ethical framework. It’s more that recent offers have tended to be either “bake this and tweet about it” (yawn), or something genuinely interesting I can’t make because my calendar is a car crash.

Then I got an email asking if I’d like to try “the UK’s first cook from frozen soufflé”, as part of Iceland’s new autumn range.

I know, right? A total disaster, obviously. I’ll get a funny story and a free lunch. Sweet.

Except it was actually good.

Lemon souffle (cook frokm frozen)

I think we need to talk about soufflé.

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Drinking around the Niagara peninsula

Canadian wine. It’s not really a phrase to set the world on fire, is it?

IMG_4861The thing is, when you’re on the same basic latitude as most of Burgundy – with a lake shore microclimate that keeps the air warm and fresh – you’ve got a shot at belting out some serious grapes. Pinot Noir, Riesling, Cabernet Franc, a bit of Chardonnay – it’s all going on around the Niagara Escarpment. There’s Syrah and Gamay in the mix, too; not to mention the funky hybrids and the icewine. No, Ontario’s got a lot going for it as wine growing country, and the actual oenology is getting serious.

In 2011 we visited wineries around Lake Erie, and were not wowed. In 2015, we spent three days tasting around the Niagara Peninsula. Four years had passed, and the grapes we saw on the vine in 2011 were now on sale in bottles. We hit a different region, one or two more up-scale wineries, and had a knowledgeable local guide. That is to say: I don’t honestly know if the wine has got better, or if we were just drinking better wine, but it was pretty great.

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Koya, Soho – any noodle as long as it’s udon

Koya is a Soho noodle bar, up Frith St, just past the jazz club.
(Someone just filled their bingo card).

Sadly, it’s also set to close in May this year. Sadface. Much sadface. Thankfully its sister bar (two doors down) will remain.

I say “noodle bar” – it serves mostly udon, with a range of soups, sauces, and dressings. Some are hot, some are cold, the specials are nifty, and it’s a good time. Koya, crab and cockles We ducked in for lunch, making it barely in time for their 2:45 last orders, and there was still a (very short) queue. That’s encouraging. As was the service – friendly and attentive, and from a gentleman who seemed like he’d be more at home in a Jeffrey Bernard era Soho all-night Italian dive. Splendid.

Décor is simple, specials skew seasonal, livening up the rather dull basic sides, and udon are probably my favourite noodles.
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Hot Mess Poutine, Soho – sleazy cheesy chips, oh yeah

This is a quick update about poutine. Poutine? Poutine! It’s Canadian! Poutine! Why would you even do that? Poutine! Because it’s fucking delicious. Poutine! Get with the programme.

Growing up in the North of England, I’m no stranger to cheesy chips, or chips and gravy. But it took Quebec to really elevate this to something special. Oh, don’t worry – I’m not getting too misty-eyed. It’s still a big bucket full of grease, starch, and gravy (which is, let’s be honest, grease and starch suspended in water), but it’s definitely one of the tastier junk foods, and it’s only just breaking into the UK market.

Hot Mess Moutine

Poutine is chips, gravy, and cheese curds. Think a more solid cottage cheese, though ideally we’re looking for something that tastes and squeaks like the awkward offspring of feta and halloumi.

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Butch Annie’s and The Alex, Cambridge – more burgers

Lagging as it does 2-3 years behind Soho, Cambridge has started to accrete gussied-up burger joints at some speed. I went to two last weekend. I wasn’t even trying to have dinner. It just kind of happened. In fact, you’re probably in one now – slices of structurally-unsound brioche passing through you like crumbly, stylized, cosmic rays.

Seriously though, it’s getting daft. There’s the two here, something in Cherry Hinton, and apparently a Greene King “concept pub” in a similar vein on the horizon.

Here’s a quick look at two new-ish ones. Butch Annie’s, which opened a week or two ago in the dead centre of town, and the latest incarnation of The Alex(andra Arms) out Mill Rd way. Spoilers: they’re both reasonably credible alternatives to Byron.

Extra spoilers: STOP WITH THE FUCKING BRIOCHE.

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